For someone who wasn’t around in the ’70s and was barely crawling by the ’80s, to me, the ’90s thoroughly exhibited music at its peak. And as one of the front-runners of my own euphonious journey, Helmet introduced me to an entirely new kind of music, one that strayed from the ghastly runoff of the glam metal milieu and enticed listeners to take part in something truly revolutionary.

The band enjoyed an extended era of high critical acclaim, as well as a degree of commercial success with several Billboard chart appearances. While recurrently enduring lineup changes and setbacks along the way, founder and frontman Page Hamilton pushed onward with the band until its regrettable demise in 1998.

The band regrouped and reformed by 2004, releasing Size Matters through Interscope before eventually parting ways. Their subsequent effort, Monochrome, was released through Warcon two years later and saw yet another shift in the band’s lineup, as well as an ultimate departure from the label entirely.

Earlier this year, the band revealed details for their 7th studio album and announced a forthcoming tour following its release. Seeing Eye Dog was unleashed in September through Work Song and showcased the band’s boundless talent and (still) unbridled abilities. Prior to the band’s LA appearance—their last stop before embarking on a five-week European trek—I had the pleasure of speaking with Hamilton on his abiding career with Helmet and what the future has in store.

Seeing Eye Dog came out a couple of months ago, and I feel like you’ve literally been nonstop since its release. Obviously, you’ve had a chance to play some of the new material live. How’s the response been?

They seem to be loving the new album. For some reason, it seems they like this one better than the last two since we’ve come back.

But I’m too close to it to even evaluate. I’m really happy with this album, you know, owning the music myself and not listening to anybody. Not that I really listened to people in the past, but record companies do have a way to kind of get in your hair. But it’s been great.

So far we’ve played “So Long,” “Seeing Eye Dog,” and we play “Welcome to Algiers.” We haven’t played “LA Water” yet, ‘cause it’s got layers of stuff and it requires a different tuning and a different guitar and stuff like that. But we’ve played “She’s Lost” and “Miserable”—everything on the album except for “Morphing” and “LA Water.” For “Morphing,” I would need like nine electric guitars and an orchestra to do it, so it just wouldn’t happen.

The initial reviews for the album were pretty mixed. I guess when you’ve been a band as long as you have, there are always going to be people who only want to hear Meantime or Betty 2.0. When you’re readying new material, do you somewhat anticipate this sort of thing?

I don’t think about how people are going to respond at all. I never have, and I’ll be honest, it can be disheartening. I tell my manager and I tell MSO not to send me reviews. I don’t read them. I was saying this to my girlfriend. She’s an actress, and we were sitting on set last night and talking to people she works with, and I said that I feel like at this point, I don’t have to explain myself anymore.

Helmet’s always been its own thing. We’ve played with everyone from Mötley Crüe and Slayer, to Rise Against and Thursday and Joan Jett on the Warped Tour, and the thing is, we’re not really a metal band. We’re not a punk band. We’re not hardcore. We’re not industrial. It’s our thing, and so I feel that I’m the one best qualified to do the music and not really worry about it. But it can be disheartening.

Somebody sent me the Spin review, and I’ve read reviews in the past where someone’s said things about my guitar playing or my solos not relating to the chord changes or whatever, and then blaming me for nü metal. I’m just like “whatever” because the people that matter to me really are the Helmet fans, and they don’t give a shit what critics think.

I had David Bowie, Elton John, Billy Gibbons, Neil Young, Danny Kortchmar, T.M. Stevens, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Dimebag from Pantera, Phil from Pantera, you know, on and on and on and on, musicians praise my band and love what we do. And those guys make records and they know what goes into making music; they know what’s significant about Helmet and why it’s great. It’s not intended to be singer-songwriter. It’s not intended to be metal. We don’t wear outfits. There’s not spectacle, no show. It’s fucking music. It’s rock music, and that means more to me than anything. You know, when Elton John told me that he loved Helmet, I was about to piss my pants. Bowie told me that in ‘97, and then I ended up playing with him. It’s kind of awesome.

My manager is always telling me that you’ve got to keep things in perspective. So just don’t send me the reviews. I don’t care anymore. If I was a schlocky band trying to make hits or whatever, then I deserve to get raked over the coals. But at this point, if someone doesn’t get what we do, it’s not my problem.

But yeah, anyway, reviews…I don’t know. Part of me is of the mind to not do any press or not get any reviews, but then there’s the 90% of the people that really want to promote music and get it to people. It’s hard not to let that 10% spoil it, but sometimes it does.

I know you’ve said in the past that there’s never an agenda for you when it comes to writing music, but so many of your songs seem like such bold, anthemic statements. So what’s the inspiration? Where does the music come from?

If it’s for a specific purpose, like for a movie or something, like that TATUA song we did, they said “Can you use the line ‘revenge destroys everything’ in a song?” and I’m like, “Why yes, I can.” I can do that kind of thing, but Helmet’s my own thing, and so there’s nobody determining what I should write about.

I’m not trying to describe a character in a movie or anything. It’s stuff drawn from personal experience, mostly failed relationships or character assassination. There’s social commentary without getting too political. I’ve never been one to stand on a soapbox because I think it’s dangerous. You know, Bob Dylan said, “I’m not a political songwriter” though there are political observations in his songs.

Also, I am fascinated with language; it’s the craft of songwriting. My mentor, my jazz guitar mentor, the person that encouraged me to study and play in the first place, he calls it “solving musical problems,” and that’s what I’m doing with the writing. It’s thematic writing, meaning I write a riff much like a classical composer would, but then I develop it, of course, into a three or four minute pop song instead of a ten or twenty minute symphonic movement. There are just ideas that come to me, and it’s fun to sing against a 7/4 riff and a 4/4 drumbeat, you know? It feels nice to me. I trust my musical instincts and I’m very patient with the writing process.

I read a lot. I read literature, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever, and the language is always kind of part of it. I read 11 Mark Twain books in a row while I was writing this album, and it’s an amazing, beautiful, poetic language that he writes; you could pull out a paragraph and it’s a poem. It’s amazing. I’m fascinated with words, but I think that standing on a soapbox or reciting from a diary is very boring, to me at least.

I heard there were a lot of problems with Warcon…

Oh yeah (LAUGHS).

…and the release of Monochrome, and coincidentally, your manager and Joe Henry I believe started up Work Song.

Yeah, my manager, David Whitehead, and Joe Henry started the label. We talked about all the options, and we talked about me starting a label, and I just told him that I have no interest. I’m trying to become a world-class jazz guitar player, and that’s a full-time, everyday thing, and I’m trying to write orchestral music that’s not cheesy.

I work on a lot of different things, like the instructional DVD, and I’ve been producing some things. I’ve produced two bands this summer, and I’d rather not worry about a label. I’m not a good businessman. I never have been.

Well, some 20 years into your career, do you wish you would have had this outlet for your music from the get-go, instead of working with Warcon, Interscope, or Amphetamine Reptile even?

No, Amphetamine Reptile and Interscope were both fantastic experiences for us, and Warcon was the first time that I’d actually run into any problems with a label. I trusted somebody and got screwed. It was somebody that I’d known for a long time, too. Bob Chiappardi.

[He] started the label with this guy, Michael Coletta, and Kevin Lyman, and to his credit, [Kevin] pulled me aside and said, “This is what’s going on. I want to give you the record back and pay you 10 cents on the dollar of what we owe you,” and just for the Saw III song alone, that was $26,500.

So I was like, “OK, I’ll take it, please,” but the other two partners didn’t want to do it. Kevin didn’t know what he was getting into. He didn’t know that there were such financial issues with Bob, so live and learn.

I’m not bitter about it, but I lost a lot of money. They never paid me tour support that they were contractually obligated to pay. There were a lot of things. I’ve never seen one penny of royalties from them, but I own the record now, so it’s my record. The band name is mine, and I own this record 100%. So, you know, you just kind of start from scratch again. I can’t complain. I’m doing what I love, and I think I can do this for a few more years. We’ll see though.

With that being said, do you see the potential for another Helmet record after this?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t really feel like it right now because we just finished the first chunk of US shows, and I want to be home. I’m working on some other things. I have two scripts that have been given to me that they want me to write music for, so I’m going to do that, and then we have Europe coming.

I think that once the dust settles, I’ll feel like writing again. I still feel like writing, and I’m really enjoying playing these new songs. They’re exciting. The band’s in good shape, and I like the relationships that I have with these guys. We have a good thing going.

You guys released a few tracks for free download over the summer in anticipation of the album. As an artist, is it difficult for you to just give your work away?

Well, I like to get paid for what we do. That allows me to continue to make albums. I’ve got about a $9,000 or $10,000 debt on my credit card from making the album. I paid off the first $7,000 or $8,000, and then the $12,000 in t-shirts and shit.

It’s a different thing, you know. The record companies have a big chunk of dough, and they’ll give you a big chunk of dough and a lot of money gets wasted. I look back on how much money we wasted, and it’s just like “Ugh, $300,000 for a piece of crap video,” but that’s the way it was back that. We didn’t have the internet.

I don’t have any regrets. Well, I do have regrets with the Warcon thing. I wish I would have gone with another guy that was more trustworthy. Derek Shulman, he had tried to sign Helmet before. He had signed Pantera and Bon Jovi, and he’s a really nice guy, and I respect him. I don’t respect these other guys, you know, Chiappardi and Coletta, but that’s the only real regret I have

The internet has definitely made it a bit easier to get your music out there and to interact with fans. Since your return, do you feel that you’ve developed a more meaningful connection with your fan base?

Yeah, and I think it’s more because I have more of a connection with my band mates now, too. At the end of every show, I sit on stage and sign stuff, talk to people, and do photos and stuff. I could never see John or Henry or Peter doing that back when we started. We didn’t think about it. I don’t know how I even started doing it, but I’ve been doing it for awhile now, and people really like it.

But actually, I don’t get online. I don’t do chat rooms. I don’t Twitter. I don’t have a Facebook. I don’t do any of that stuff. It’s just too time consuming. I spend enough time on the computer as it is doing emails, so I don’t need any of that other crap or else I’d never play another note of guitar, but I definitely do feel more connected.

You’ve always been involved in a variety of musical projects outside of Helmet. So besides the two scripts that you just got, what else do you have going on?

I got asked to write some songs for a movie, and actually, a music supervisor is coming this evening. So I’m open to that kind of thing. There’s those two scripts. One, I haven’t even read yet, and one I’ve read three drafts, and they’ve lost their financing, but he’s not worried because he’s made a feature already, and he’s going to go through different financing options.

Then I have a group in New York called Jazz Wannabes, and in February, we have some shows, but because the band is touring so much, I don’t want to spend too much time away. Plus I’m in a really good relationship right now, and we’re trying to plan a wedding, so to go away too much is kind of difficult. I’ve never felt this in the past. I was always kind of happy to be away from my ex-wife. (LAUGHS)

You’ve got a lot on your plate right now, but what’s in store for Helmet into the new year?

March 3rd to the 24th we’re planning another US run, and then April and May will be Japan and Australia, and then I don’t know after that. Hopefully they’ll be Europe. Europe is five weeks coming up this November and December, and I’m hoping next summer we’ll do either the early chunk or the late chunk of the summer, like in the festivals.

We’ll see. We played two years ago in Houston to 600 people on Halloween, and we played this year in a room a little bigger than half that size, with 350 people. I know the economy here and in Europe too—the money has gone down by about a third—we’re not in a position like a lot of bands who have a lot of money. I’ve heard even bigger tours have cancelled like Lenny Kravitz and Christina Aguilera, so I don’t know, we’ll see. I have to make a living, and I love doing this. I’ve never gotten rich off of it, but it sure is fun.

Helmet European Tour Dates:

11/17 – Arnhem, Netherlands – Luxor
11/18 – Den Bosch, Netherlands – W2
11/19 – Bielefeld, Germany – Forum
11/20 – Hamburg, Germany – Knust
11/22 – Aarhus, Denmark – Voxhall
11/23 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Vega Jr.
11/24 – Berlin, Germany – So36
11/26 – Munich, Germany – Feierwerk
11/27 – Vienna, Austria – Szene
11/28 – Budapest, Hungary – Dürer Kert
11/29 – Basel, Switzerland – Sommercasino
11/30 – Zurich, Switzerland – Abart
12/01 – Amalgame, Switzerland – Yverdon
12/03 – Ravenna, Italy – Bronson
12/04 – Turin, Italy – Spazio
12/05 – Annecy Le Brise, France – Glace
12/06 – Strasbourg, France – La Laiterie
12/08 – Stuttgart, Germany – Roehre
12/09 – Cologne, Germany – Werkstatt
12/10 – Paris, France – Elysee Montmarte
12/11 – Orleans, France – Astro Lab
12/12 – Tourcoing, France – Le Grand Mix
12/14 – Ghent, Belgium – Vooruit
12/15 – London, England – La Scala
12/16 – Manchester, England – Club Academy
12/17 – Glasgow, Scotland – Cathouse

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